Iomar do Nascimento, better known as Mazinho, was a vital cog in the Brazilian midfield that claimed the 1994 FIFA World Cup USA™ title after a penalty shootout win over Italy at the Rose Bowl in California. Recalling the experience more than 17 years on, the memories remain as fresh as ever for the 42-year-old.
"Each and every minute of that cup is etched on my memory," he enthused. They were wonderful moments. I'll never forget the attitude of Romario, a player I learned my trade with when we were youth players at Vasco da Gama.
"I'd never seen him so motivated in training; he was determined to become world champion as well as the tournament's top-scorer and best player. What's more, as a group we'd learned from the mistakes of 1990, and there were no problems whatsoever [between us], just a good atmosphere and sense of mutual respect."
However, despite the achievement of Mazinho, Taffarel, Branco, Mauro Silva, Dunga, Bebeto, Romario and Co in claiming the Brazil's fourth world title, Carlos Parreira's class of 1994 found themselves widely criticised for the style with which they won the game's top prize. "At that World Cup we found a balance between the physical approach typical of European sides and the skilful play that is synonymous with Brazil," Mazinho explained. "And we won the title.
"All right, it wasn't the most attractive style of play, but we were tired of being the best footballing team in the world, as it had been years since we'd had a title to go with it. Being the moral victor means nothing; what matters is the title.
"Today we're part of that elite group of players to have a world cup winner's medal," he says from Barcelona, where he has lived for the past two-and-a-half years so as to better manage the footballing careers of two of his three sons.
Thiago and Rafael, his two eldest, currently play in the youth sides of Catalan giants Barcelona. They could hardly have hoped for a better advisor than Mazinho, who is fulsome in his praise for the pair. "Leaving aside the fact that I'm their father, I can tell you they have what it takes to make a career in the game," he said.
"They're two very complete players with great skill. Thiago is more creative, very good in one-on-ones and is a good passer. Rafael, meanwhile, has a simpler game but he has great vision and is very adept at long passes. They were born with the footballing gene and had the perfect environment to complement that when they were growing up," the former midfielder told FIFA.com.
The siblings have already begun to make a name for themselves in the Barcelona youth ranks, with 16-year-old Thiago having been rewarded with call-ups to the Spain U-17 squad. "I'd like to see him defend the colours of Brazil, what with my history and all," says Mazinho, who also helped the Seleção to victory at the Copa America in 1989 and claim the silver at the Men's Olympic Football Tournament Seoul 1988.
"That said, it's unlikely Brazil will call up a youngster who's spent his formative years abroad, so I think he might end up playing for La Roja. The kid's very happy where he is, so that's all that matters."
A smooth transition
It is more than eight years since Mazinho called time on a playing career that began back in 1983 at Brazilian club Santa Cruz. From there he moved to Vasco, where he really began to flourish. In 1990, he followed the well-worn path to Europe, spending a season apiece with Italian teams Lecce and Fiorentina before returning home to play for Palmeiras.
After picking up the world title at USA 1994, the player joined Valencia, where he would spend two seasons before crossing Spain to join Celta Vigo, a club he was proud to represent between 1996 and 1999. "It remains a special club for me, as it was the highlight of my time in Spain.
"My one bit of unfinished business in football was not winning anything with Celta. They were a modest team and always battling to keep their top-flight status, yet we managed to play some of the best football in Europe at the time," he recalls wistfully.
After hanging up his boots, the Brazilian was frequently spotted playing on the beaches of Vigo, the city where he based his own football academy. "For me, the transition wasn't that hard. I injured myself the year before I retired, so I was mentally preparing myself for the end.
"However, what most helped me bow out calmly was my routine of going to watch my lads play football every weekend. I enjoyed using the free time I now had to nurture and look after them," he adds.
And his talented offspring have not been Mazinho's only links with football in recent times. Last season he held the position of technical director with Greek club Aris Thessaloniki, which he only relinquished to dedicate more time to sons' careers. He also closely follows the fortunes of his beloved Seleção, currently under the guidance of his former team-mate Dunga.
Mazinho believes the new coach is the man to make amends for the disappointment of Germany 2006, saying: "That team had no appetite at all, and it showed. Dunga and Jorginho are hard workers and know how to get improved performances from the players. They'll be unwavering and keep the team strong. They know what it is to win a World Cup, and I'm sure they'll have a good team for South Africa 2010."
With 39 international caps of his own, Mazinho is in no doubt who the key players will be in this resurgence: "I've always got faith in Robinho, Kaka and Ronaldinho. They're players with a lot to give to Brazil.
"As well as being hard workers, highly skilled and goalscorers, they can also play the beautiful game. They're the guys the team needs most."